|Jasmine blooming in the side yard
3/10/14. There are moments of fear about what lies ahead, but I almost automatically turn back to the present moment. So I write here that it’s another flawless morning, the sun breaking brightly on San Jacinto, the air utterly still after brisk breezes. I open doors and windows, and turn on the patio fountain. True, I can feel a little anxious when I sense something unexpected, like discomfort along the incision that’s supposed to be healing in my scalp. But dismissing alarm comes as easily as turning to another distraction, especially reading or writing. If there’s a heaven, as someone has said, I’ll be disappointed if there isn’t a library.
3/11/14. At yesterday’s visit with the radiation oncologist, she regaled us with stories of med school worthy of a stand-up routine, and again revised upward the window of possible years that a more aggressive treatment may offer me. I welcome this development as a challenge I had not anticipated—a long-term pushback against the cancer that redefines the time to come. Rather than some graceful submission to a fate beyond my powers to avert, life becomes a whole new enterprise. I like the prospects of that.
Maybe months before my diagnosis, someone, for no reason I can remember, had me subscribing to a daily email meditation from a Franciscan priest steeped in the mystics. Its unexpected angle on ultimate things intrigued me and became a surprisingly apt and welcome perspective when I became a cancer patient. I can even hear that rebel Martin Luther telling me from somewhere, “You oughtta listen to this man” (or however that would sound in medieval German).
One book I’ve kept over the years is a signed collection of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer by a theologian, Helmut Thielicke. Being German, they are a bit heavy-handed, but for me the man had street creds. They were first spoken in the bombed out remains of a church in the days following the war, by a survivor who had been hounded by the Gestapo. He knew well the valley of the shadow of death. Originating in a shattered and traumatized world, his voice possesses authority to speak to the subject of loss and suffering.
|A whole lotta white oleander in a neighbor's yard
The nights are interminable again. I turn out the light at 10:00 and I’m awake again at 11, 12, 2, and sometimes in between. Restful sleep does not come until after 3:00. Then it’s dawn, and I’m awake again. With coffee reassuring me, I open this journal to continue the log of this journey.
3/12/14. Having gained back the weight I lost in the hospital, plus a couple more pounds, I’m noticing a widening girth that calls for attention. Besides the one-hour walks most days, I begin making the effort to resume sit-ups and all the rest of what I used to do fit into a pair of jeans, while hoping to reverse the new shapelessness. Then there’s at-home OT, working on my left hand and fingers to strengthen them and improve coordination.
My left hand will sometimes take instruction from my right, while it demonstrates how to hold things, e.g., where the fingers go while removing the lid from a jar of peanut butter. I’m amazed at the subtleties of grip, balance, and leverage that I never noticed before. Still, my ring and little fingers remain numb. I’m a long way from using them as I used to. Blog posts are slowing down because it takes so much longer to produce copy that is not full of typos.
|Ocean surf pine
She had me doing various “drunk tests.” Touching my nose with eyes closed remains a challenge, but I surprised myself by being able to walk in a straight line with one foot placed directly in front of the other. Finally, I get another blast of radiation. To give my wife a break from driving, a friend from the neighborhood met me in front of the hospital to give me a ride home. The day is a morale boost, as the news was good, and the end game of this particular medical adventure feels like it’s being postponed again.
3/14/14. Yesterday was long and tiring, with a long desert walk in the morning, an OT appointment at 2:00 and radiation at 3:30. Evening supper for me was leftovers, while my wife went early to bed. It was lights out by 9:00.
More on the literature of spiritual uplift. Someone points me to a book called A Year to Live, which sounds maybe on topic for me. But what I find is a preachy, scolding tone and the answers to the wrong questions. They seem mostly to do with bucket lists, which to me is what ultimate issues get reduced to for the well and living. The examples given in the book are of people overturning their lives, quitting or changing jobs, and getting divorces.
|A neighbor's swordfish mailbox
3/15/14. Yesterday brought a welcome end to a week of five radiation treatments, two OT sessions, and two consults with doctors. My spirits remain high, and if you ask me how I feel, I'm likely to say, "undaunted." I have this image of my brain busily forming work-arounds where old connections are down. Thinking of treatment as "pushback" seems less desperate than "fighting" the cancer. I keep on keeping on, looking forward to when the days are not all chopped up with medical appointments.
The most irritating aspect of this illness is how it continues to highlight my worst character traits. Out in public, I care too little about my appearance, and I'm annoyed when my wife wants me to put on a change of clothes before leaving home. I can also shift into mentally reciting a list of grievances against the world, an old habit of mind that frankly tires and diminishes me. Not to mention my ever-ready impatience and irritability.
|Community center and library
We drove then to the library to pick up books. my first time there since the surgery. While there, I like to browse the sale shelves (only 25 cents for hardbacks; I usually give them a buck and tell them they charge too little) and come away this time with a one-volume set of Dashiell Hammett's novels.
Then to the post office, to pick up the mail and send off a book to a friend. After that, a stop at Vons for a short list of groceries. By then we are both too tired to fill up the car, waiting for one of the pumps too much of an ordeal for either of us. Fatigue catches us both in unpredictable ways. Once we are back home, my spirits quickly revive, though on the way I could think of nothing but lying down once I got there. But my wife's fatigue seems deeper, and I get to be the caregiver for her the rest of the day, a role that allows me to feel useful in ways that illness often robs one of.
Previously: White lily